Have been spending time this week digging through my current iTunes library (~12,000 songs) looking for the tracks that sound the best when on the road. Have come up with an "On The Road" playlist of around 2,400 songs. Now I just need a six-day roadtrip to test it all out.
[Note: I don't actually prefer giant playlists like that; they're too unshapely. So the On The Road playlist will actually form the raw material from which iTunes will auto-generate a "Smart Road Playlist," which will be a more-manageable 25 songs in total. So it can really be tested out perfectly fine on a shorter roadtrip of about two hours.]
Anyone want to recommend a favorite album to listen to while driving?
Whew, I've been busy lately, and I'm sorry to have been letting this blog languish. I've been really active elsewhere on the Internet (Facebook, etc) but I'd really hate to let this blog die forever. (I am going to need to figure something out in another few weeks, when Blogger ceases its support of FTP publishing...)
But anyway. The number one thing I've been blasting away on lately is the Inevitable project, which shouldn't come as a surprise, given that the only posts on this blog for both March and February are Inevitable-related.
The latest: I re-designed the look-and-feel of the in-game Catalog to make it easier for new players to find what they're looking for. Four complete pages (and a bunch of other junk) are available for free preview over at the Inevitable "leaks blog."
I also generated a promotional postcard (using these folks) and distributed tons of them at gamer Mecca PAX East. Whether this was a useful endeavor has yet to be determined, but if you want to see the front of the postcard, this link may work.
Next piece of merch-like stuff is stickers, I think.
The last piece of exciting news is that Jon Leistiko, Inevitable's co-designer, just got nominated for an Origins Award for Best New Card Game (for his earlier game, "The Isle of Dr. Necreaux"). So Inevitable is now officially a game "co-designed by Origin Award Nominee Jonathan Leistiko." Bonus!
Inevitable is a board game, set in a slapstick dystopian future.
Inevitable is a work of commentary, satirizing the contemporary landscape of corporate and political power.
Inevitable is a device which uses what Matthew Kirschenbaum would call the "procedural granularity" of complex rule-systems to produce robust narrative experiences in a deep imaginary world.
"Inevitable is a game of layers within layers; the product of analysis, deconstruction, reconstruction, and meta-analysis. [It] overtly and covertly works to thwart you and subvert the board game experience overall." Jonathan Leistiko, the game's co-designer.
So... what is Inevitable, really? It's something that I began designing a long time agothe earliest sketches I own of Inevitable materials are from 1988. It's something I have continued to tinker with, on and off, throughout the years: it enjoyed heavy play and extended development with my college crew circa 1991-1993, and then went into a re-development process in 1999-2000, right after I finished up with graduate school. Now it's alive again, and slouching towards a commercial release. It has a dedicated website and you can follow it at Facebook.
Is it playable? It is playable! I just playtested it again this Sunday.
Is it perfect? No, it's not perfect. (These recent playtests have reminded me often of game designer Jesse Schell's "Rule of the Loop," in which he declares that "The more times you test and improve your design, the better your game will be.") But tinkering incrementally with a long-running piece of design feels strangely satisfying at this point in my life.
Not long ago, I wrote the following on Facebook: "As someone who does not have children and who does not particularly like babies, one would not think I would be a good person to illustrate a baby book. And yet I think I did a surprisingly good job."
Yes, it was an improbable turn. But my collaborator Amy L. Clark had written a baby book, and needed some illustrations, and I've been trying to draw more, so... we came together on it.
She wrote passages like this: "Eventually, you became a child. Most people are so busy being children that they end up being young people for a long time. There are important things to do during a childhood, some fun, some scary, some mysterious, some which require practice, many of which make a bit of a mess. You _______ and once you ________."
and I accompanied her passages with illustrations like this:
See four other illustrations (and the accompanying text) here. Copies of this baby book are not presently for sale, but if that changes you'll of course hear about it.
i made this, part one: "know your polyhedra" six-button set
OK, so this is the part where I start talking about things I've made, like I promised.
First up is my recently completed six-button set, "Know Your Polyhedra." Anyone who has done much in the way of tabletop gaming should instantly recognize the commonality between these six dice geometric solids:
They come in a nifty little packet with a hand-numbered inlay card:
Mostly I just wanted to show these off, but if you're enough of a math nerd or a gamer geek that these make you itch with desire, I'll shoot a set your way for $5.95less than $1 per button! Just pop in on my humble Etsy storefront. The proceeds are going into the coffers of another gamer-related project that's in the pipe... but more on that later.
Sorry this blog has been all about the music-writing (and not much else) lately, my attention has been consumed by the Aught Music blog. It's not that there's nothing else on my mind, it's just that writing for (and curating) that blog siphons off almost all my blogging energy. I've gotten a bit ahead in these last few days, though, and will try to record some other thoughts in this space soon.
In the meantime, here's, uh, more music-writing actually, but in a different form:
How good is your visual memory under pressure? You'll have to use both your agility and good resource strategy to navigate your spaceship through an increasingly hostile dimension. How far can you get?
Move ship with ARROWS
Illuminate levels with the SPACEBAR (costs energy)
Find the key and go to the gate
Regain energy by picking up charges
There are 8 levels that will repeat for 6 rounds. The charges are persistent across all rounds, so don't use all of them the first time around...
The player will have to use their visual memory as most of the game is played in complete darkness. Illumination of the levels comes through collecting energy charges along the way. The catch is that a charge collected on an earlier level will no longer be available on later iterations. Charges picked up later are worth more energy, so the player will be able to manage their resources accordingly to make it to the harder rounds. In these later rounds the player is faced with greater energy costs for hitting a maze wall as well as greater costs for illuminating the level. The level time limit reduces and the movement speed increases. We realize this game is quite challenging and will likely intimidate at first as using visual memory, keyboard agility, and resource management together may prove to be a new experience for many players.
We are very happy to have gotten the game sponsored by King.com and they have been great to work with.
So I've been busy with loads of project-work this month, but I also had time to invent and playtest a new game. It involves using the vast, super-complicated structure of Wikipedia as a play space, an environment through which one player chases another. I like to think of it as a kind of competitive parkour through the architecture of all human knowledge, but calling it "tag" is a little simpler. It's easy to learn and loads of fun.
A few weeks ago, I sent out this e-mail to a particular circle of friends:
Hi there, everyone.
If you're receiving this e-mail, it means that you're a friend with whom I've exchanged music at least once or twice in the last ten years. It also means that I know you to be a person who holds opinions about music, possibly passionate ones, and that I trust your opinions (even though they may not align exactly with mine). In other words, you are the people with whom I'd consider starting a project that involves music.
So here's the idea. Many of you know that for most of the last ten years I have made "end of year" mixes and lists trying to capture small and idiosyncratic snapshots of what the year in music looked like. I've been thinking, this year, of doing something "big" for the end of the decade, but couldn't decide exactly what I wanted to do, especially given the usual limits of time and energy. Then today it hit me: what I really wanted to do is something that wasn't just a solo project, but rather something that was collaborative, something that would involve the people who (in one way or another) who helped to define what this decade's musical landscape looked like for me.
So here's the plan.
I have acquired a blogspot domain with which we can playhttp://aughtmusic.blogspot.com. From June 1, 2009 until Jan 1, 2010, I plan on posting at least few tracks a week (as MP3s) to this blog, along with short appreciative write-ups. I don't intend on writing them all myself, though, or even choosing all the tracksthat wouldn't be very collaborative, would it?
So here's how you can help out:
1) Pick a song you like.
2) Write a short appreciation of it. By "short" I mean that around a paragraph is fine, but longer is OK too. [Note: I'm intending to proceed chronologically, starting with a few weeks devoted to songs / tracks released in 2000, and moving forward from there, finally wrapping up with 2009 around the end of the year. So for now, I'm only collecting write-ups for tracks released in 2000. I'll let you know when we're getting ready to move on to 2001.]
3) Send me the appreciation in an e-mail, and attach an MP3 version of the track. [If the track is too long to fit comfortably as an attachment, or if your e-mail client balks for some other reason, touch base with mewe can work something out.]
4) Repeat as desired.
That's it! I can host the file and handle the back-end leg-work of turning your write-up into a blog post.
Collectively, you form a very eclectic group, but this seemed like a good way that we could all share our opinions with one another, enjoy some camraderie, and end up with a nice collection that celebrates a decade of good music. What say you?
The project is currently underwayyou can check it out here. I've been pleased enough with this project's first phase that I'm expanding my call for participation. So if you're interested, drop me a line here or through the usual channels. (The intake of entries for the year 2000 is now closed, but I'm accepting write-ups of stuff from 2001 until June 21st.)
1. My friend and writing workshop compatriot Amy Clark has been responding to the economic downturn by launching Stop Buying Stuff Magazine, a web-zine devoted to exploring and celebrating "those parts of our lives untouched by corporate greed." What does that include? Telling stories, playing games, and making shit out of cardboard boxes... basically the kinds of things that my circle of friends tend to enjoy. They need "recipes, crafts, art, stories, resources, games, songs, poems, letters, drawings, images, riddles, [and] instructions," so get on that.
2. My friend and collaborator Dave Evans spent much of March and April developing and promoting a whimsical Flash game, Orange You Glad. It's now gotten its sponsorship and is live on the Internet: so it's time for me to invite everyone give it a whirl.
OK, the prototype of the game depicted below is up and running. It won't be live on the Internet for another few months, but we're inviting playtesters to look at a private, locked beta. If you're interested in being added to the beta tester list, drop me a line via the usual channels.
(Note to beta-testers: The level depicted in Friday's post does not actually appear in the current version of the game, so don't knock yourself out looking for it.)
First full day of the 2009 AWP conference begins today; I'm going to head downtown in the next hour or so. I'm primarily there to promote a new project, the Vivarium Review of Books. Fans of innovative writing (poetry and experimental fiction) may want to check this out.
Handing out Vivarium flyers is my main goal, but I'll be doing lots of other conference-related stuff, too. Predictably, three of the panels I'm the most interested in (for today) occur at the same time (1:30 pm):
R155. Multiformalism: Postmodern Poetics of Form. (Susan M. Schultz, Hank Lazer, K. Silem Mohammad, Annie Finch) Language poetry meets new formalism at last, and the poems fly! Editors and contributors to a daring new multicultural, multiaesthetic anthology talk about where poetry is headed now.
R169. The New-Media Novel: The Intersection of Film, E-Lit, & Story. (Steve Tomasula, John Cayley, Tal Halpern, M.D. Coverley) New authoring tools are allowing a new kind of novel to emerge, one that resides between print and independent film. Often created by a team of collaborators working in sound, animation, and language, these new-media novels involve many of the same challenges and pleasures of working in film or theater. This panel will take up several aspects of this exciting new genre, including its writing, creation, collaboration, and publication.
R172. The Age of Invention: Innovation and Experimentation in Middle-Grade and Young Adult Fiction. (Mary Rockcastle, Liza Ketchum, Anne Ursu, E. Lockhart, Anita Silvey) Very innovative work is being done today in middle-grade and young adult fiction—innovative in form, style, point of view, design, and subject matter. These books boldly satirize and comment on the human condition; they take on taboo subjects; and they interweave fiction, poetry, drama, and visual art. The panelists will discuss artistic innovation in their own work and in the work of writers they admire. They will set this work in a context of the larger field of fiction for young readers.
In any case. Anyone interested in meeting up sometime in the next three days is welcome to contact me at email@example.com. If you simply want to track my movements, try here. Twitter users may wish to note that lots of AWP-ers are using the #AWP09 hashtag; you can see the whole feed of them here.
Down to the final fifteen of the 100 Book Challenge!
As long as we're coming out of the graphic design shelf, we might as well move into Beautiful Evidence, by design critic Edward Tufte [I panned this book a bit when I first read it, believing it to re-hash some of the material from Tufte's earlier books. However, that also makes it the easiest one to select if I'm going to take just one. It is probably the most well-designed one of the batch.]
Re-Search #11: Pranks! [Back in the good old days of the mid-nineties, Re-Search was the ultimate arbiter of what was cool and underground, and I'm grateful to them to introducing me to a lot of different countercultural thinkers. Of the Re-Search volumes I have, this is the one that meant the most to me, but Angry Women, Modern Primitives, and the Industrial Culture Handbook are all just about equally worth bringing.]
Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge [Along the same lines as the Re-Search books, this was a book that taught the young Jeremy about what was cool. (The book's main answer to that question: geeks and psychedelic shit.) Some of the tech romance has lost its luster in the, er, fifteen or so years since this book came out, but I'm more than willing to hold onto it as perhaps the single volume that best explains how I ended up the way I did.]
Along these same "formative" lines, I'm not sure I can part with any of what I consider to be the three key Advanced Dungeons and Dragons texts: the Dungeon Master's Guide, the Player's Handbook, and Monster Manual. [I haven't played Dungeons and Dragons in probably five years now, but these three books basically describe how to generate and stock an entire fictional world, and determines coherent rules for how players can interact with that world: the amount of entertainment that can be extracted from their triangulation is truly limitless. A book that strips away the fantasy trappings in an attempt to provide an even broader basis for world-building is the GURPS Basic Set, which I'm also tempted to bring but which I don't think would make a list that caps at 100.]
Continuing with games, I'd bring the Redstone Editions Surrealist Games book-in-a-box...
...and the Oulipo Compendium, which defines a mind-boggling number of literary constraints to play around with...
...and Jeff Noon's Cobralingus, which takes the idea of literary constraints and fascinatingly updates it by mashing it up with the kind of gate/filter/patch mechanism familiar from real-time sound synthesis programs like AudioMulch.
And ultimately, for when I was through with the wacky wordplay and wanted to get back to writing normal English-language sentences, I'd bring a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.
I'd cram in a few more great works of fiction...
Cathedral, by Raymond Carver
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
my version of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville [My edition has great illustrations by Rockwell Kent, circa 1930.]
...and one excellent work of humor: Our Dumb Century: 100 Years of Headlines from America's Finest News Source
...and maybe one exemplary picture book for children: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg
And that'd be 100 (OK, closer to 115, given the various cheats and bundles I stuck in there.) Could I live with this 100? Maybe, although there's a lot of good writing in the piles left that remain. I find myself already wanting to make a list of a second hundred... the "honorable mentions," perhaps...
Last time I left off on the cusp of "comics," so let's proceed into that realm. I'm fortunate that a lot of the comics I want to bring are actually in comics form, in long-boxes under my bed, and are thus exempt from the purge. But in terms of "trade paperbacks," let's see.
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons [Totally essential; besides being a gripping thriller, this is also a decade-by-decade history of the archetype of the "costumed hero" in the twentieth century, with an appreciation of the form of the "horror comic" thrown in to boot. It's also one of the best examinations of what it means to be an aging superhero; in this regard it is joined by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, which I'd bring if I hadn't lost my copy somewhere.]
From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell [If I can bring another Moore, I'd pick this paranormal retelling of the Jack the Ripper story.]
Read Yourself Raw, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly [A giant, oversized version volume collecting selections of the first three issues of "the comics magazine for damned intellectuals." My introduction to Spiegelman, Charles Burns, Mark Beyer, Gary Panter, and Windsor McCay. Speaking of whom....]
Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, by Windsor McCay [Surreal, fantastic dream comics, circa 1904 (predating Surrealism by a comfortable margin).]
Rabid Eye: The Dream Art of Rick Veitch, by Rick Veitch [More dream comics, these circa 1996. But no less fantastic.]
Cheating: I have most of the run of G. B. Trudeau's Doonesbury in a series of volumes: The Portable Doonesbury, The People's Doonesbury, The Doonesbury Chronicles, etc. Any of the individual volumes might not be that valuable, but together they make a form of the Great American Novel.
Another cheat: volumes 4, 5, and 6 of the book-sized comics anthology Kramer's Ergot [Probably the most important comics anthology since those 80s RAW volumes. I'm not sure I could part with a volume.]
And another cheat: volumes 1-4 of Joss Whedon / John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men [I've been reading a lot of comics this year, and I'm prepared to say that, although this isn't high art, it's probably the best stuff that mainstream comics is putting out these days.]
American Splendor Presents: Bob and Harv's Comics, by Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar [Crumb and Pekar are both essential comics creators, and getting both of them, at the top of their respective games, makes this volume a must-keep.]
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware [Ware's world-view is bleak enough to nearly constitute a form of comedy, but there's no doubt that he's an absolute master of comics form and vocabulary.]
Monkey Vs. Robot, by James Kochalka [A little bit of brilliant minimalist stuff... his American Elf collection is also great, but I have that in individual-issue form.]
The Frank Book, by Jim Woodring [Jim Woodring drew my LiveJournal user icon, a character named Frank who roams about in a creepy, psychologically-rich cartoon universe. This stuff is a good example of the kind of things that can really only be done in comics (they've been turned into animated films, but their eerie, airless logic works best on the page).]
The Frank Book is a big coffee-table style book, so let's transition and throw a few more of those into here:
Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective [Published by the Guggenheim, this 632-page tome contains somewhere around 500 color reproductions of Rauschenberg's work, and another couple hundred in black-and-white. This is also probably the most expensive book I have ever bought for myself (and it would be even more expensive to replace, apparently.) Worth it, though: Rauschenberg, to me, is one of the key artists of the 20th century, bringing together (in a single figure) strands of Abstract Expressionist, Pop, and Fluxus.]
Paul Klee [Another Guggenheim edition. Klee is another of my favorite visual artists, and although this volume isn't as comprehensive as the Rauschenberg one, it's well worth hanging on to.]
I'll bundle two graphic design books here as a final cheat: Sonic: Visuals for Music and 1 + 2 Color Designs, Vol. 2. Neither one is a masterpiece, which is part of how I can justify bundling them, but I do flip through them fairly frequently when needing ideas for graphic design projects, and books of this sort are expensive, and thus a pain to replace.]
Fifteen books left to go, and what's left in the collection? Mostly just miscellany. Stay tuned!
100 book challenge: part four: essays and cultural criticism
Moving on with the 100 Book Challenge, we come to the "essays" area. I don't have a huge selection here, but these would be my picks:
I Remember, by Joe Brainard [Perhaps the simplest organizing principle for a memoir ever: a sequence of sentences, each of which begin with the words "I remember." Yet somehow it works.]
The Size of Thoughts, by Nicholson Baker [This book is full of great pieces, including Baker's hilarious review of the Dictionary of American Slang and his lament on the disappearance of the card catalog.]
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace [Not quite as good as the exemplary Consider the Lobster, but I don't have a copy of LobsterI read the library's copyand this one is also great.]
I'd also probably bring the giant anthology Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate, which has key selections by people like George Orwell, Joan Didion, M.F.K. Fisher, etc., and thus eliminates the need for a lot of individual volumes.
Essays slide nicely into the critical writing section of my library, so let's head there....
Illuminations, by Walter Benjamin [This book is full of interesting ideas and key essays, but it also has deep sentimental value for me.]
America, by Jean Baudrillard [I find the central argument here to be incomprehensible, but in a provocative, distinctly "Baudrillardian" fashion. Like a piece of heady SF in its way. See also his The Gulf War Did Not Happen, which I could part with but which holds similar pleasures.]
Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault [Probably the key Foucault to hang onto.]
Mythologies, by Roland Barthes [And this the key Barthes.]
The Postmodern Condition, by Jean-Francois Lyotard [...and this the key Lyotard.]
Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, by Donna Haraway [Contains the great Cyborg Manifesto and a number of excellent critiques of the ideological biases inherent to the sciences.]
A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, by Manuel Delanda [Between this and Patrik Ourednik's Europeana, one doesn't need any other history books.]
Temporary Autonomous Zone, by Hakim Bey [Does this belong in fringe ideas or cultural criticism? It's a little of both, but totally freakin' brilliant. Life-altering.]
Moving on into some more straightforward literary and media criticism...
Literary Theory, by Terry Eagleton [An overview of the main literary theory movements of the last hundred years, written in a style that's clear enough that a bright undergraduate could grasp every word of it.]
Postmodernist Fiction, by Brian McHale [A good argument about what postmodernist fiction is, what it does, and why it's doing it. I'd also include Marjorie Perloff's Radical Artifice here, a similar argument about experimental poetics, but I don't own a copy.]
Half-Real, by Jesper Juul [The best piece of video-game criticism I've read to date.]
Rules of Play, by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman [Not exactly a piece of video-game criticism, more a design handbook, but a key text for "game studies" anyway.]
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud [Yet, oddly, I might pass on McLuhan's Understanding Media, which has not dated especialy well and in some ways is a model for everything cultural criticsm does poorly.]
That's seventeenand since I'm trying to stick to round numbers for this project I'll include three pieces of fiction I overlooked this first time around: the bizarre Sixty Stories, by Donald Barthelme, the classic Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and a piece of fun, dense SF, Accelerando by Charles Stross (which I reviewed here.) That brings us to twenty for today, and the running total for the project overall to seventy. I'll move on from the McCloud into the "comics" shelf next.
So in the Red Eye a couple of days ago was an article on something called the "100 Thing Challenge"which caught my eye at first because I thought it was a spin on my long-running 100 Favorite Things exercise.
It is and it isn't. It's an article on one person's attempt to simplify his life by reducing his personal belongings to 100 things. This appealed to me, probably foremostly because I'm preparing a cross-country move in a few weeks, and so the idea of reducing my belongings has been much on my mind lately.
But 100 items only? Sheesh, I thought to myself, I don't think I could reduce even just my books to 100, much less everything else. (It actually turns out, if you look at the original post from the guy who came up with the challenge, that he's allowing himself books as an exception, so that's heartening.)
But it did get me to thinking: if I tried to reduce down to 100 books, what are the ones I would choose? I have a lot of books that I cart around from apartment to apartment to apartment, more for their decorative value than anything else. Many (most?) of them I don't think I'll ever re-read (and if I was struck by the sudden impulse to re-read them, I could probably go get them out of a library). But there are some that I do refer to regularly, or plan to re-read, or just can't bring myself to part with. But is that category larger than 100?
I think I'll make a list of the 100 "must-saves," and see how I feel about the "leftovers." A complete list or list in progress will likely appear here soon.
See also: the LibraryThing Swap this Book feature; BookCrossing; and my own lament, last year, about what to do with all the CDs clogging up my living quarters (a problem I'm still in the process of solving).
Also today, I contributed my fourth and final contribution, moving on to Asia to examine the work of Wong Kar-Wai's longtime production designer William Chang. In Chungking Express (1994), Chang memorably evokes the crowded, "hyperactive" look of contemporary Hong Kong (see below).
And joining us for the first time is Bob Westal (Forward to Yesterday), on Fritz Lang's 1922 film Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. In "Playing About," his appreciation of the film's four art directors, Bob examines the film's Expressionist use of "sheer artifice":
Then we have "Cruel Production Design," by Pacheco of Bohemian Cinema. Pacheco writes on the movie Cruel Intentions, providing some lavish screenshots of "the expensive suits, clothes, and homes of the spoiled brats on screen."
And then we're joined by Oggs Cruz, of "Lessons From The School of Inattention," who provides a thoughful write-up on 1985's Scorpio Nights (directed by production-designer-turned-director Peque Gallaga). Scorpio Nights, Cruz writes, uses its production design to generate an "unsurmountable atmosphere of fetishistic, fatalistic and erotic danger."
And closing things out [possibly?] we have Jason Bellamy, of The Cooler. In his piece, "Messaging Through the Medium: The Royal Tenenbaums," he writes on the Tenenbaum house and notes that while it is "pure fantasy, the temporary stuff of movie magic," it also "feels lived-in to a degree that many sets don't."
Includes, as a bonus, scans of the detailed drawings that Wes Anderson provided to production designer David Wasco.
If you're just now coming to this Blog-A-Thon, feel free to consider participating -- I'm likely to do an update wrapping late-comers into the fold if there's interest. Or just post a link in the comments thread, here.
I had a great time working on this, and seeing what people came up with. Expect a full wrap-up post a bit later (likely tomorrow).
mass-populated and hyperactive spaces: william chang
My final post for the Blog-A-Thon takes us away from Europe and into Asia: we're going to be taking a look at the work of William Chang, Wong Kar-Wai's longtime production designer. All of their collaborations have phenomenal production designI considered, briefly, trying to tackle their 2004 project 2046but the one I'd like to look at today is a much earlier one, Chungking Express (1994).
Chungking Express is a pair of love stories set in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one of the densest cities on Earth, and correspondingly, there's not a shot in the entire film that doesn't take place in some kind of built environment, providing a special challenge for the production designer.
In Chang and Kar-Wai's vision of the city, Hong Kong is strikingly evoked as an elaborate labyrinth of infrastructural space, apartments, shops, corridors, restaurants, clandestine workspaces, and unclassifiable combinations of the above. Behold:
[Much of the distinctive look of this film stems from the choice to film portions of it within the Chungking Mansions, a sprawling building described by Wong Kar-Wai as a "mass-populated and hyperactive place," and a "great metaphor for [Hong Kong] herself." The Chungking Mansion Wikipedia page is absolutely fascinating reading.]
First, Bob Turnbull, of Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind makes his second contribution to the Blog-A-Thon with "A Potpourri of Production Design," which features appreciations of eight different films: Playtime, Deep Red, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Songs From the Second Floor, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Heaven Can Wait, and Say Anything. Some incredible stuff there:
And then we've got Weeping Sam of The Listening Ear, also joining us for a second go, and also doing a big production-design round up, with stills from The Pornographers, The Apartment, Inland Empire, and some films of Ed Wood's.
Plenty to delight in here as well:
In other news, I'm presently in Seattle, WA, and by lucky coincidence my visit happens to overlap with a segment of the Seattle International Film Festival: I went and saw two festival films today and will go see two more tomorrow... if any readers of this blog are also in town, drop me a line and we can compare notes.
Day Four was a slow day for the Blog-A-Thon, with no new entries coming in: just as well, as I was moving about the country (visiting three major US cities) and only had fleeting time to tend to the blog(s).
However, Day Five is off to a good start, with Deborah Lipp, of the Ultimate James Bond Fan Blog, contributing a post on "The Genius of Ken Adam": "Bond films, as designed by Adam, look like you are walking into a heightened world, someplace a little more alive, a little more exciting."
And then, we have "Beyond Repulsion," a piece on David Cronenberg's long-time designer Carol Spier, over at Jeff Ignatius' Culture Snob. Of their collaboration, Jeff writes that it has yielded "a physicality that's unparalleled in cinema":
And finally, my own post on Amelie, whose production designer Aline Bonetto reliably provides a series of "objects and spaces that can convincingly yield pleasure and reveal character" (see below).
The Blog-A-Thon doesn't end until Sunday, so there's still time to participate with your own post...
the pleasures of objects and spaces: aline bonetto
Production designer Aline Bonetto's collaboration with French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet began in 1991, when she worked as a set decorator on Delicatessen (still one of my all-time favorite movies). She returned as his set decorator in 1995 for City of Lost Children, and moved on to become his official production designer in 2001, with Amelie.
Amelie would present a challenge for any production designer, given that, at its core, it is a movie about the pleasures of objects and spaces. Even beyond this: the film repeatedly posits that your relationship to objects and spaces is, in fact, a central determinant of your character. And so the responsibility falls on the production designer to produce objects and spaces that can convincingly yield pleasure and reveal character.
It is to Ms. Bonetto's enormous credit that the film pulls this off: the spaces in the film are crammed with interesting things which delight the eye and help to establish mood and flavor. The costumes are great, too.
Day Three gets underway with "I Think We Lost The Horizon," in which Jonathan L. (of Cinema Styles) appreciates Frank Capra's 1937 film, Lost Horizon. Lost Horizon, in Jonathan's estimation, has "[c]razy politics, a disturbing message and beautiful, and I mean beautiful, production design."
I follow up with my second go at it, this time looking at the balance between "beautiful places" and places that are "falling apart" in David Gordon Green's George Washington (see below).
"Production designer Christian M. Goldbeck," Anaj writes, "sets the scene for a suffocating trip into the 1970s where the brownish colour of wall-to-wall carpeting seems to smother all of Michaela’s hopes and ambitions."
Next, Weeping Sam at The Listening Ear appreciates the "stagy" quality of 2005's Princess Raccoon. "Frontal, artificial, performative," Sam writes, "all the way through."
And, finally, creeping in just a hair before midnight, we have Bob Turnbull of Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind contributing an appreciation of Tony Richardson's 1965 film The Loved One, with production design by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. Bob observes the way that "the rooms are so stuffed and almost overflowing that they can barely fit the people in":
An excellent day for the Blog-A-Thon! Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow may hold. I'll be in three different major US cities tomorrow, but expect a late update nevertheless.
I know I promised to do a post on Aline Bonetto, but before I leave the US for sunny France I wanted to do an appreciation of one more person who has an eye for uniquely American types of spaces, specifically, production designer Richard Wright (no relationship to the American novelist).
Richard Wright's work has mostly been with director David Gordon Green, in a partnership lasting four films: George Washington, All The Real Girls, Undertow, and Snow Angels. This partnership, incidentally, seems to be coming to an end as both Wright and Green branch out: Green is taking a turn in the Apatow machine with Pineapple Express (forthcoming), and Wright has been bringing his hardscrabble Americana aesthetic to acclaimed indie features like Great World of Sound (2007) and Chop Shop (2008).
The future doesn't really matter either way for our purpose here today, which is to look at the first product of the Green / Wright partnership, George Washington. Production design is crucial to George Washington for the same reason it's crucial to Punch-Drunk Love: because the film is deeply concerned with space. Specifically, American varieties of space:
Space is explicitly discussed in a few different ways in George Washington before it reaches the ten-minute mark. "This place is falling apart faster than we can do anything about it," complains one character, while another remarks in dreamy voice-over "I like to go to beautiful places, where there's waterfalls and empty fields, just places that are nice, and calm, and quiet."
The film might initially seem to be privelging the position of the complainer, because while we don't see any empty fields or waterfalls in the film, we see no shortage of what we might be considered ruin:
But ultimately, the film instructs us that both of these characters are missing the point somewhat, and that in a post-industrial America the available places of "nice, calm, quiet" are not waterfalls or empty fields, but are precisely the places that have effectively "fallen apart." Almost the entire film happens in these sorts of spaces, and Wright's eye for designing them is flawless:
These types of spaces are, almost always, sources of comfort (the final screenshot in that sequence is an exception); sites where play, exploration, and a kind of culture can occur.
In my own creative work and personal life I have often found that these spaces yield similar sorts of pleasures, but outside of Wright's production design I can't think of a time when I've felt that feeling reliably translated to the screen. Richard Wright, we salute you.